On Not Making Art

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

After talking to some artists who haven’t started producing anything yet, I wanted to write this post for those of you who are stuck. I’m going to tell you a secret. You already know why you’re not writing or drawing or painting or making music or whatever your flavor of art is. You really, really do. Discipline is required, but to sit down and actually make art? There’s a reason why you’re not doing it, and you know what that is. If you don’t, you’re having a hard time admitting that horrifying and terrible truth to yourself.

Often, the reason why you’re not making art is grounded in what you’re feeling. Most of the time, it’s because you’re afraid. I’m not talking fire-and-brimstone fear, I’m talking about the kind of skepticism, anxiety, and existential dread that evolves out of knowing what you want to do, picturing it clear in your mind, and not being able to draw/paint/write like you do in your head. Consider these types of artists:

    SCENARIO A: THIS SHOULD BE EASIER THAN IT ACTUALLY IS – Some artists feel inept, broken, disconnected. So, they run to the bookstore or visit websites where they’re promised “the secret of…” and a hundred tips to hone and perfect their art–all things they are grateful to learn, of course–and they sit back down apply tips here and there expecting their unformed work will match their imagined masterpiece. They bought the secret, after all. Only, their finished work doesn’t match their vision no matter how hard they try. They feel defeated, they set their art aside, and rinse/repeat at a later date.

    SCENARIO B: I SUCK, BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT I CAN’T DO – Other artists are so painfully aware of what they don’t know, and they constantly berate themselves for it. They might even know a bunch of artists, and hang with them hoping some of their talent will rub off. They try as time allows, but have so little confidence in the process of learning how to make the art they want they never finish what they’re working on. Unfocused and lost, they flip to many different mediums or constantly change what it is they want to do.

    SCENARIO C: EVERYTHING I DO IS FINISHED AND READY TO SELL – Some artists either don’t care about what they don’t know or doesn’t care about what they can’t/shouldn’t do. As soon as their work is finished, they offer it for sale or for public review. Friends, family, reviewers, and folks within a community of artists like this could be encouraging them to publish or share the art before its ready, because they think they’re helping and it feels good. But, because nothing is held back these artists are not protecting the work they do, and their ability to improve is hampered. It’s exactly the opposite: they’re sharing it at every stage and use other people’s opinions as a guide instead of trusting that learning is a process we all go through.

There are many, many different scenarios of artists like these who are trying to connect what they want to do, with what they think they’re doing, and what they actually know how to do. Most of us make up our careers as we go along, because there are many things outside of our control. A career happens, however, after artists have the ability to continually produce art to sell. When you’re just starting out, you’re not there quite yet–and that’s okay. That’s normal. The vehicle of commercialism, social media, and other means of sharing, selling, and getting feedback on your art exacerbates feelings and adds an extra layer of fuckery and/or angst as well. Only, selling and promoting your art is a process, and it’s not the same process required to make it.

Again, I want to reinforce that you know why you’re not making art, and that reason is usually connected to your emotions. Do your circumstances affect your ability to make art? Absolutely, and I’m not writing this post to diminish your situation because only you know what that is. Discipline is what has helped me to work past my own issues, and it’s part of making art. That discipline came from the years I practiced and performed as a musician, and it’s something I applied to writing and jewelry making. It’s not the same process as selling your art, revising it, reviewing it, promoting it, etc. but it’s the most crucial–because there is no secret to becoming an artist. First, you have to get in the habit of making art before you can do anything else.

If you don’t know how to make art you want to make, be kind to yourself. Give yourself the time and the ability to learn. Make mistakes. Study. Ask questions. By all means, take risks and screw up–but do it on your terms. Without that piece, without the crucial processes and methods you internalize by making art and finishing what you’ve started, then all you’re left with is hopes and dreams which, if you’re not careful, can leave you bitter. You’re also not alone, however, and I hope that this post encourages you to face up to your feelings, push past them, and start making art because it’s what you really want to do.

Back on the Short Story Wagon

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Last year I made a conscious decision to pull back on writing short stories so I could focus on larger scale projects. Just the rough draft for the Firefly RPG was almost 300,000 words and that, combined with a slew of words for the Exclusive, Friends in Low Places, and some upcoming releases… Well, I just didn’t have any room in my brainpan beyond the online workshop I took.

Now that my big projects have shrunk and shifted around a bit, I’m chug-a-chug-chugging along again. Finding a moleskine is a posh lifesaver for recording ideas. Well, and doodles. Because really… Life isn’t complete without the space to doodle and record quotes. (Apologies on the lack of attribution on the one below. I can’t seem to ferret out the proper source. Multiple say-ers on that one.)

Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise.

Anyhoo, I find a lot of value in putting pen down to paper. To that end, I took some recommendations for non-bleed pens (I’ll be trying them out before doling out suggestions. I can say with certainty that the Pentel Wow! series does not bleed.) Placed an order via JetPens.com. If you’re mildly creative (or just like free swag), they post contests regularly on their blog.

Now that I’ve got room to think and time to work out again, I’ll be duct-taping noise canceling headphones to my head this week. I’m excited, yes, but also happy I’ve had the chance to tighten my neck screws.

Yeah… So maybe I should have vetted THOSE analogies prior to blogging this… Ah well!

    Mood: Should I feel guilty about liking Queen of the Damned?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Less than I have fingers.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 30. That’s right!
    In My Ears: Redeemer by Marilyn Manson
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology
    Movie Last Viewed: Transylvania 6-5000!
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

Talking Procrastination and Process Today

The Tick Weapons Lab Avatar

This morning I’m back on the timer. Artificial chaos in a device of small size? I’ll take it. Now that projects are moving in a forward direction again, social media can be reduced to a half-an-hour a day.

This is Blaze.

Blaze the Timer

He can be really scary sometimes. Enough to frighten the worst sort of procrastinator! Anyhoo, as the headline for this post suggests I said I’d talk to you about process and procrastination today. So… Getting right on that… after this really awesome Waterstones Lego-and-Literature contest…

Annnnnnnd we’re back. Phew! It’s a lot harder to get back off the Procrastination Train leading to Productivity Station than it is to board it. I think everyone has their trigger points; mine happens to come in pairs. Research and the dread waiting game. Ideally, when one project stalls for whatever reason, I should be picking up another one and moving on down the list. When I don’t have a to-do list or have the vaguest idea of what I’m working on for the next month or two, I procrastinate. Basic project management techniques reduces any anxiety I might have because a) I know what projects I’m working on to earn my keep and b) I can safely have the space to think about those projects. Any new ideas that come in I write down in a journal – which helps me plan ahead. The minute I start thinking about all the non-essentials like quality, popularity, social media kerfluffles, etc. is the second I stall. It’s just not worth filling my head with crap that gets in the way of doing what I love.

Okay, that’s the project management side of the equation. I also can’t stress enough how smaller tasks help get bigger projects done. Setting milestones, for example, even when I’m working on fiction helps keep me on track – especially because I know research can impact not only what I write but how.

But what about research? I feel a lot of writers have a different tack on this leg of the process. My background is that I’ve worked a lot on other people’s properties and research is a requirement to get those projects done right. Reading scripts and previously-published materials with a critical eye, understanding the difference between characters and characterization, iconic and not, rules of the setting, tropes, etc. taking notes and figuring out the sides of the box… All of that is part of the job – which is why I don’t like to research for research’s sake. I don’t like to dive into a project on spec and read 10, 20, 30 books just to come up with a pitch, because I can guarantee you I will do all that and more when I’m in the trenches.

What this means is that because I love to research and problem solve on projects, this can be a trap to procrastinate–especially when it comes to my original work.

My original work is different because I view it to be on spec. I take an immersion approach in part because of my writing style. Oh, I want to write a book about fairies? Well, let me find novels about fairies and determine what’s already been written. I do that because I have to assume an editor and my readers will have done that, too. Then, once I figure out what I want to write about, let me pick a few non-fiction resources on the subject and go from there. (You should see how many books I’ve read for Violet War. It’s… Yeah…)

By reversing the process a bit between media/tie-in and my own work, I then balance the pros and cons of both to make each one stronger. Remember: I don’t have a deadline for my own work unless I set one. Ten years from now (Yes, I am budgeting ten years for this.) when my original work is primarily what I do? Well, then I’ve got a set of processes in place to handle that. Sure, if “success” comes sooner I’ll take it – the main thing is ensuring I keep focused on writing. Having processes in place and knowing where I’m weakest helps me do just that.

It should be said that I do love to read and read broadly, but when you’re a writer it’s a balancing act between get this amount of words down on the page and deadlines. Not having them – deadlines – is the worst possible scenario for me. Thankfully! I’ve got two for my original work which I’m really happy about. For the rest, though, yeah… Deadlines will eat me so I’d better get back to it.

P.S. Yes, Rimmon has recovered from yesterday’s breakdown. He moped around and avoided me until this morning. Normally when I call him, he comes running, but last night? Oh no. He’d lift his head up, shoot me an evil glare, then sink back into the shadows.

This morning, he decided I was worthy of his presence. Here’s a picture of him on his designated spot:

Recovered Rimmon

    Mood: 25 degrees. HEAT WAVE! Oh, crap. And snowing. FAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I refuse to admit how much I’ve had on the grounds I will incriminate myself.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I went for a walk. It was short. And cold.
    In My Ears: White noise. Zzzzzzzzzz…
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
    Movie Last Viewed: Transylvania 6-5000!
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

So What Goes Into A Firefly Game Anyway?

Firefly Avatar

Fans are excited and I’ve had non-stop questions about when the game is coming out. I mentioned this earlier, but I tend to err on the conservative side of announcing releases because, in my experiences, there IS such a thing as marketing/publicizing too early. This is also why we’ve been more transparent about what’s happening and when. Fan expectations are high and that means better (more) communication as this process continues. See also: talk is cheap and doesn’t get the words down or the game/album/story/novel/comic/etc. out the door!

Or, to put it a little more blunt: you really don’t want us to rush and put out a crappy game — do you?

Still, I realize there’s probably a ton of folks who have no idea what goes into game design and production. Hence, the reason for my post today. I thought I’d take a minute and show you what goes into this process. Mind you, these are very common components that relate to a lot of games and this one happens to be a little more complex because we have to get approval from our friends at Fox television studios. (This doesn’t include any of the other business-related elements like marketing, putting the game into distribution, convention planning, etc.) We’re not creating the game in a bubble, you see. They’re very much involved in what we’re doing.

Oh! Almost forgot! If any of my friends out there in RPG-land on the publishing side spot a missing piece or want to chime in to offer links or more visibility, feel free. Without further adieu…

  • Personnel – Who’s working on the game? What talents do they have? When will they be available?
  • Time And Resources – How much time do folks have to work on this? What’s the budget? How do different roles overlap/complement each other?
  • Scheduling – Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. So far, we’ve coordinated them for almost a dozen people. Without them, nothing for this the game would ever come out in a reasonable timeframe.
  • Brainstorming – What is the definition of a Firefly Role-Playing Game? What do players do at the table? What’s the mechanic going to be? What characters will they play? What releases do we want to make?
  • Setting Bible – Where the heck is this game being played? What’s the timeframe? What can we/can’t we do?
  • Development/Management – A developer works with the writers and knows the system to shape the game according to the overall vision of what we’re trying to do. We have a developer on Echoes of War and, in many ways, multiple developmental roles for the Firefly RPG. That’s partly what a Brand Manager (e.g. me) does in addition to people wrangling, outlines, etc. This is a step-up from brainstorming, because once the vision is clear, it has to be honed and sharpened for multiple people.
  • Writing – There are layers to writing the Firefly RPG because of the voice we use. First, we need good content. Then, it needs to be spruced up. Content here comes in multiple pieces and it all needs to fit together seamlessly. Now, here’s the thing. Right now, the estimated word count of the Firefly RPG is likely going to be 150 to 200K words. The Echoes of War adventures we announced will likely be between 20 to 30K a piece. The corebook may change pending game development; right now all we have are estimates. This does not include revisions; for every draft, there will likely be changes to fit the larger context.
  • Designing – Game mechanics don’t just grow on trees. The rules are important and that’s where the design team comes in. Even with a base system, everything has to tie together and that’s why we have a systems team in place. Remember, we’re making a Firefly Role-Playing Game. While there will be worldbuilding for fans to draw from, everything we do is in the context of a game — even the episodes.
  • Playtesting – The best games have been playtested and played a number of times before they’re released. We’re doing the same thing, but with closed groups. Playtesters have to be managed for feedback and the larger the number of groups, the more time it takes to wrangle the communication.
  • Editing – Our editors are QC – Quality Control. If something isn’t written clearly, they’ll revise it. If a paragraph has typos, they’ll fix it. But, they need a reasonable amount of time to review existing text. Yes, even text that is perfectly acceptable needs to be edited. A good editor (and we have two) is crucial to production. You can see how important it is to ensure the writing is sharp — especially for a game like this!
  • Art/Layout – Art can take anywhere from a month to three months to receive, or longer depending. There are layers to that process, too, and I think folks sometimes forget that art doesn’t just pop out of nowhere. After the final text and art is done, the layout artist needs to put together the book for whatever formats (e.g. print versus digital) it’ll be available in. This does not count time spent for revisions. And I didn’t even mention the indexing!
  • Approvals – Whether you work for your own company or not, the game has to be approved before it gets released. In our case, we have internal approvals and our friends at Fox. So, even when the game is finished, it still has to go to Fox before we can release it. If there’s changes, then the release is delayed.

I’m pretty sure I forgot something in this list… Hopefully, even with what I have written here, you can see why games are a lot more complex and time-consuming to create than you might have thought. Back to it then!

    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Too many!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was a hill. And I beated it.
    In My Ears: The screaming cries of my thoughts.
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy IX
    Movie Last Viewed: Ted
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* need to take pictures…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Reading Deprivation And Other Miscellany

Fizgig Avatar

Hard to believe it’s almost six o’clock on a Saturday, but here I am. Many of the pitches I sent out have borne fruit; I’m busy working on outlines and drafts at the moment and just finished a science fiction novella. There’s been a few delays on projects due to elements out of my control, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far and I’m getting a really slick setup for recording audio as part of my birthday present. So, there’s that. (And that’s very exciting!)

I’m still behind on mail and filing, but I’ve cleaned up my office and managed to reduce some of the clutter so I can focus on projects. I’ve got a lot of books lying around and while I’m happy to be in such good company — surface space is crucial when painting or making jewelry. C-r-u-c-i-a-l.

Now that I’m here, a few things I’d like to mention. This week, I’m scheduled for a reading deprivation session so no Tumblr or social media. E-mail only during regular work hours. (e.g. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) This is part of a program I’m immersed in right now; one of the theories behind the deprivation is that artists are heavily influenced by environment and “junk” words/experiences. Branding, for example, is a tiny, tiny piece to that. Just watching TV, you’ll encounter thousands of brands every day.

But, back to the junk concept. Really, junk experiences lead to junk emotions and sensationalism is all about forcing you to feel something you might not normally feel for a click. What you do with that reaction fascinates me from a sociological standpoint. How much time do we waste on that crap? I’ve had good luck with social media blackouts before and I think smaller reading deprivations, like the one I’m about to dive into, are more effective than what I did for the 100 days social media blackout because I’m taking back control of what I consume. For myself, that’s essential to everything I do, especially since I need to listen in order to hear a story’s pulse or the rhythm of a song or the pattern on a canvas, etc.

For any artist, output matters so much more than input, because this is who we are. It’s not like being on an assembly line; there’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes that depends upon money but other times it doesn’t. It just depends on the person and I’m a “It’s the journey — not the destination” type. So recognizing the swinging periods, whether they be mood, weather, or related to something else is crucial for my work — for ALL my work.

Before I go, two things. First, stand up and applaud humankind. We have designed a machine that has drilled a hole in the surface of Mars. If that does not instill you with a sense of wonder? I don’t know what will.

And two, the “largest” ancient Scottish art installations have been discovered recently. The reason why I’m pointing that one out, is because there was a lot of references to the cup-shaped marks in the rocks. They don’t know why the ancients made cup-shaped marks, but in more recent times holy water and milk filled the indentations. From what cursory research I’ve done on this, there’s a theory the marks are related to a fertility rite — but I’m not buying it at all. (Besides, everything is a fertility rite if you turn your head sideways.) I’d be curious to line up the position of the stars at the time and test the reflection of the water under different conditions. Fill the marks with water, light a fire or two or wait for sunrise/sunset, and you have some potentially heavy duty lighting effects for your magical ceremony/oracle/priest right there.

Anyway, just thought I’d mention it. Another weather advisory for tomorrow. Freezing rain. I think I could use some spring now. No wonder why I bought that hot pink purse. Eesh.

    Mood: I’ll get back to you on that.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I broke down. Having a Diet Dew.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Stairs. They sucked.
    In My Ears: AX Music Volume 15 Utopia.
    Game Last Played: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
    Movie Last Viewed: I don’t know the name of it, but it was a spaghetti western with crow ninjas in it.
    Latest Artistic Project: SHINIES. Still need to take pics…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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